Two New Yorkers spend six months 18 months!?! in Bangalore and other places in India.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Mysore Storefront

traffic school.JPG, originally uploaded by jrambow.

No points for guessing what you head here to learn. This was a good neighborhood to practice with the learner's car, which I saw heading slowly down the road. There was very little traffic, and the street cows seemed calm.

Some of the smaller signs in the center of the storefront, behind the counter, seem a little obscure to me:

Mysore Chicken

mysore chicken.JPG, originally uploaded by jrambow.

Don was in Mysore last week, and I took the train down to see him. Here's a chicken store near his work. The tinsel was probably applied during Dasara, the week before. What I especially love is the mark of Shiva, the three parallel lines, on the chicken.

Monday, October 29, 2007

No Keeping This Fish from Smelling

So yesterday for lunch we headed west to the upscale, suburbanish neighborhood of Indiranagar, which surely has one of the highest number of restaurants per capita in Bangalore. (Koramangala has even more.) Anyway, the Parsi deli we'd first hoped to find had closed, and we couldn't find the Bengali hole-in-the-wall, so instead we ended up at a very fancy Bengali restaurant called 6 Ballygunge Place, a branch of a chain that started in Calcutta .The place was doing a very good business on a Sunday.

I'm no expert on Bengali food, but what I did know is that it's famous for 1) seafood and 2) its pungent mustard sauces. Don's dish, dab chingri, satisfied both requirements. It was prawns in a mustard and coconut gravy, with neither ingredient getting the upper hand and balancing each other out. I did my best to get as much of it from him as I could, but I could have done with more. The dish was actually cooked and served in a tender (green) coconut, which is always fun.

We also got some bhajas: onion, eggplant, and potato pieces covered in batter and deep-fried. Deep-fried vegetables are hard to beat, especially with some strong mustard dip on the side.

And then came the Bombay duck (loitya shutki). Oh boy. As you may know, this is actually a smallish fish that's been dried and salted. It's famously stinky and oily*. As advertised!

The first hint that all this talk about stink was true may have been when Don's dish came first, and only after we'd been served completely did the "duck" come. It was in a bowl. With a lid over it. I think the restaurant didn't want the trashpile-on-a-hot-summer-afternoon smell to escape until the last possible moment.

The fish had been chopped up and then fried with lots of chilis. It was oily, salty, strong, almost like Thai fish sauce or anchovies or something. It wasn't disgusting, but it was overwhelming and spicy and I don't think I'll be putting in the time necessary to acquire this particular taste.

Overall, we though 6 Ballygunge was very, very good. But over at Mouthshut (kind of like Trip Advisor for Indian things) and burrp, the reviews are mixed. If anyone else, Bengali or otherwise, has eaten at this place and has strong opinions about it, I'd love to hear them.

* And ugly. See here.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Wine Time 9: Seagram Nine Hills Chenin Blanc

Rs. 415
12.5% alcohol

As we continue to clear the decks with bottles we've drunk recently, we come to the second of the Seagram's wines we've tried out.

It was a bit of a surprise -- I had it in my mind that chenin blanc was a very mild, sometimes almost watery wine. But this was a concentrated, quite sweet, slightly bubbly wine. It was tasty and fun. We completely randomly had it with masoor dal (yellow lentils with lots of spices), and that's not what this wine is for. As the label says rightly, it will "pair well with [light] salads and appetizers." Actually, we think its sweetness might not even work for many appetizers -- this would probably be nicest as a dessert wine, or something to sip with a biscuit. It would be a good wine to drink on most occasions when you'd be drinking champagne.

It's a solid 7.

Wine Time 8: Grover Cabernet-Shiraz

Grover Vineyards
Rs. 380
12% alcohol

Business-oriented people in India often talk about the USP (unique selling proposition) of a business, and it's common to see "USP" this and "USP" that in the newspapers. It may not be unique, but the selling proposition trumpeted on this wine's label is the fact that its shiraz and cabernet sauvignon vines were "imported from France" and are now "thriving" on the "sunny hill-slopes of the Nandi Hills near Bangalore." So you've got a little foreign flavor in these one, perhaps.

We liked this wine. It's a very standard, full-bodied red wine. Let it breath a little by leaving it open for a few minutes before drinking. It's going to go well with meats and other heavy dishes -- we ate it will some vegetarian chili and it was a good match.

This 2007 bottle gets a 7.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

What to do if you're attacked by monkeys

Yesterday Slate took on the question of timely question of what to do if you're attacked by a monkey gang.

First off, I'm not really sure what the article considers an attack. Is it just a monkey looking at you cross-eyed? Or is it a monkey actually making a move at you? Hard to tell.

Either way, the main advice is "just give 'em what they want. When monkeys get aggressive, it's usually because they think you have something to eat."

Lousy advice, I think. Isn't giving your goods away just teaching the monkeys to go after more snack-toting people? Is the author possibly on some sort of secret Monkey Food Supply Council? Would she advise us to all keep some potato chips or bananas on hand as monkey mugger money?

And then we're predictably told we can "diffuse the situation": "don't make eye contact or smile with your teeth showing." So nice! I'm learning about monkey ways! But what if I think I can scare them off with some teeth and eye contact?

Somewhat more useful is the advice to carry a stick, avoiding cornering them, and (if all else fails) bopping them on the head. Presumably you can go for a little tooth-baring it things have reached such a pass, but that's not spelled out.

Prevention, I think, would have also been good advice. Keep that water bottle in your bag, and keep and eye on your food. And be careful on those balconies, monkeys or no.

Monday, October 22, 2007


cleaning ladies.JPG, originally uploaded by jrambow.

Lots of rangoli, or colored designs for the floor, were created during the festivities at Don's office.

You can check out more of them here.

Saturday, October 20, 2007


Today is Ayudh Puja, the 9th day of the major Hindu festival of Dasara. Here in the south, it's a day to honor Lord Vishvakarman, the god of artisans and others who make things. It's a day to get blessing for tools and other things that help you do your job. So, a few minutes ago, I saw a row of four cars in the courtyard next to the apartment building being blessed, with garlands on the hoods, ringing of bells and an oil lamp.

At Don's work, computers and other office equipment are all being blessed. Here in the apartment building, there will be a puja (blessing) at 11:00 at the entrance, and I'm trying to figure out if it's OK to bring my laptop down, or if it's just meant for the building as a whole.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Wine Time 7: Madera 2006 White Wine

Nashik Valley White Wine
Sula Vineyards
Rs. 272 ($6.70)
12% alcohol

In our last edition of wine time, we had the surprisingly not-horrible Madera red, which got a respectable 7. And now it's time for the white.

Well, the label's still nice! Thrifty Sula didn't even bother to round up a different tribal-art picture for the white. And the tag line on the back ("an easy-drinking wine from the Nashik Valley, India's premium wine-growing region") is also the same. That's what I call efficiency. Or maybe laziness. Whatever. It saved me from taking another photo.

On to the drinking. Yuck. It's thin, it's slightly sweet, it tasted a little like an overripe melon. It was the sort of wine that would give you a terrible terrible headache if you drank too much of it at a small-gallery opening, the end of a wedding reception, a party at my house, and wherever else plonk is likely to be served. It seems to us that if you're making an entry-level wine, which I guess is what Sula is going for, you better make it extra enjoyable. Maybe not great, but fun. Or you're going to have a lot of people thinking that wine sucks and that a certain very predictable and less over-priced beverage is the only way to go when it comes to alcohol.

This wine is a 3.95, with 0.05 subtracted for the the fact that it costs 2 rupees more than the red version (huh?). The best part about it is the bottle, which is making a handy watering can at the moment.

As for the Complete Wine Guide, Dr. Rathore gives the 2004 edition a very low AVERAGE score. His "tasting" description is wonderfully disgusting: "a bit slimy, saliva, some lime peel, dull sweet finish."

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Monkey Babies

Monkey Babies, originally uploaded by jrambow.

Although it is a scientific fact that monkeys are evil or at least evilish, it is sometimes impossible to resist their cute faces and antics. Also, they are so often forming scenes that make it look as if they may be part of a perfect nuclear or extended family. Of course, all this togetherness is usually because they are busy picking lice and other creatures off each other, but that doesn't make it any less cute. And a nit-picking monkey is a busy monkey -- one that isn't baring its fangs, or trying to steal something, or making other monkeys.

Water Monitor

DSC05955, originally uploaded by jrambow.

I don't know if Sri Lankans get bored of having cool animals like water monitors around, but I hope not. This one was in the moat of the Temple of the Buddha's Tooth, in Kandy. At first we thought the monitor was eating a duckling (there were several ducks nearby). We were trying to be all "Circle of Life" about it, but they we got to be on the water monitor's side completely once we saw the long tail and realized that it was a huge rat being eaten.

Anyway, we didn't see if he managed to get it all down. To his left a crow was watching carefully, hoping for scraps.

No. 18

Over at Gridskipper, I have a post up about one of the more chilled-out restaurants we ate at in Sri Lanka, No. 18. I think they should open a branch in Bangalore. We certainly have our share of fancy restaurants, but they often seem to veer toward the snobby or at least overdone side of the street.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

India Getting on the Wine Map

A lousily written article in the Telegraph points out that the new edition of the World Atlas of Wine will now include wine-producing areas in India as well as China: "The map of the world's most renowned wine-producing areas has been officially redrawn this weekend to include countries such as China, India, Georgia, Canada, New Mexico and Belgium."

Now, New Mexico is not a country, and Georgia may or may not be, depending on which one the book includes. More odd is the claim that Canada is a wine newbie. They've been producing lots and lots of good wines, especially on the west coast, for some time.

Anyway, if I see this book in India, I'll have to peek inside to see which wines in the subcontinent made the cut. I hope I can lift it -- as the article says, it used to be 236 pages, but now it GROANS under the weight of its 400 whole pages.

[via Fark]

Friday, October 12, 2007

My Free Newspaper Prize

This morning around 7:30, when I always open the apartment door to leave out the garbage and pick up the two papers we subscribe to, I saw something small scuttle out of the pages and into the apartment. Oh great, I thought, now the monster cockroaches are using the front door rather than just coming up through drains and cracks in the kitchen tile.

But I followed it back into the apartment and the corner it ran to, and it wasn't another cockroach. It was a tiny gecko that had evidently either hitched a ride with The Hindu and The Deccan Herald or had been wandering the halls, looking for something to read.

Either way, I hope he finds reason to stay a while, unlike the others that appear once or twice and then disappear. I know I often bring up geckos, but can you blame me when they're almost beating down the door to come in?

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Insults to Religion and Other Crimes

So in the northeast state of Manipur there were these monks from the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, aka ISKCON, aka the Hare Krishnas. They were minding their own business selling books, until a possibly drunk jerk comes up and says "Hare Rama, Hare Krishna, beef is the best" five times, a blasphemous take-off on the famous Hare Krishna chant. There was a "heated exchange," some sort of scuffle, and undoubtedly hurt feelings all round. But it didn't end there.

One monk, who had his clothes torn, filed a First Information Report (FIR, or police report), saying that the man had violated Section 295A, the national law that says that anyone "with deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the religious feelings of any class of [citizens of India], [by words, either spoken or written, or by signs or by visible representations or otherwise], insults or attempts to insult the religion or the religious beliefs of that class, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to [three years], or with fine, or with both." Interestingly, the monk didn't file any charge about the assault by the old man's associates.

The culprit, Joykumar, was booked and spent three days in jail. He's out on bail now. What the paper calls a "twist" is that a couple days later the monks came and offered the guy some prasadam, food or sweets that have first been offered to the gods and then are considered holy. (Another paper says in fact it was another ISKCON "devotee" that gave the prasadam out.)

I don't agree with this extremely broad law, which obviously can be easily used for all sorts of ends that are bad for Indian society. But let's leave that aside. Wouldn't it have been better if instead of giving the guy some sweets the monks had just decided to not press for charges in the first place? Just because a law's on the books hardly means it needs to be enforced in all cases. I'm certain the monks were insulted, but couldn't they have just let it pass them by? How is spending time in jail likely to make Joykumar think any better about the monks, or any worse about eating a burger?

Related: Fighting Against Censorship, by Amit Varma

Rice Pudding

I'm busy "researching" rice pudding to use up some of the rice that resulted from cooking Persian-style rice last night. The Wikipedia article on the subject cracks me up -- who knew there was so much to say about it? I don't agree that "Over centuries, the European recipe has been simplified, resulting in the modern dish often criticized for its blandness," simply because there are a million zillion recipes for it, some of them much more bland than others.

The Persian rice, by the way, turned out good, but because my pan wasn't that huge, the nice and crunchy coat on the bottom was smallish. It's definitely a recipe that's best with a monster pan.

UPDATE: So I ended up making this rice pudding, skipping the vanilla because I couldn't find it on the shelf (where'd it go?), and subbing a cup of fresh pineapple for the raisins. It turned out very good and non-bland.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Sigiriya Signs

This sign from the city fortress of Sigiriya made us laugh, but you have to admit it gets its message across quickly. I'm not sure how big the danger really was. Further up, near the summit, you could see nests of what may have been hornets. But so many Indian monuments (including the Taj Mahal, if I recall correctly) have nests of bee or hornets or wasps, and I never saw any warnings like this. Any entomologists out there know about noise-hating wasps?

On the same level where you could see some nests was a cage with thin wire mesh over it. One of the guidebooks said this was the get into in case of hornet attack! This was surely set up for the gardeners or caretakers, though -- in other words people more likely to stir up the insects with more than just noise. Anyway, we didn't see any hornets flying around, and we didn't have to make a break for the cage. This was just as well -- it was small, and I could see a lifeboat-style crisis developing over who was going to get to take refuge in the cage.

As for this sign, can we be forgiven for thinking at first it meant "no handicapped people"? Anyway, Sigiriya is the opposite of accessible, with a million steps, so only reasonably mobile people were there. And they did need to be told not to sit on the stone-slab throne to the right.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Prawns: the Salty Snack Food of the Gods

prawn cakes, originally uploaded by jrambow.

Sri Lanka was a blast. We went to the beach, we went to boutiques, we saw ancient ruins, we were beset by touts, and we took the train. And on that train, which went along the coast from Galle up to Colombo, we had what may possibly be the best railway snack food in the world. As you can I hope see from the blurry evidence, this snack is made by taking one or two little prawns and covering them in a salty batter with sesame seeds. Deep fry them and serve to grateful train travelers. They were so good. Does anyone know what these things are called?

Indian trains have lots of sellers with good snack, but I've never had anything as good as this was.

Monday, October 01, 2007


After a couple days in Colombo (the heat! the walking! the security checkpoints!), we've landed in the much more laidback Galle and its old Dutch Fort. So many incredibly beautiful old bungalow-like houses, which miraculously haven't all been changed into boutiques, or boutique hotels, or boutique restaurants. We are staying in one of the old houses that have been changed into a boutique hotel. It's very nice, and I'm loving the swimming pool. Tomorrow we head south a couple kilometers to visit the wonderfully named Unawatuna, a beach-lover's paradise, as the papers in India would say. More later.